Pistons observations: Tilt toward youth reaps benefits in win over Thunder

Detroit News

Detroit — Three rookies, a second-year player and a fourth-year player.

That’s a hard lean to the youth movement for the Pistons’ starting lineup in Friday night’s 110-104 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Pistons (17-39) have committed to the young players, with the playoffs all but out of their grasp. Killian Hayes had his first start since returning five games ago and Isaiah Stewart got a rare start, along with starting-lineup regular Saddiq Bey. Second-year forward Sekou Doumbouya and Josh Jackson round out the Pistons’ starting group.

With so many veterans resting or injured, and the Pistons on the first night of a back-to-back, it was different to see the young lineup leading the way.

Here are some takeaways from the victory:

► On the boards: Stewart had 21 rebounds, easily a career high, but he was more active than normal on the offensive glass, grabbing nine on that end. That was more than any Thunder player had, and in often splitting the minutes with Mason Plumlee, he typically doesn’t have the minutes to amass those big numbers. With 32 minutes on Friday, he was able to be effective on the boards, and in scoring 15 points.

The pass: Killian Hayes had a highlight reel pass in the third quarter that showed his prowess in handling the ball. After grabbing a rebound, Hayes took a couple of dribbles and saw Bey streaking up the right wing. Hayes is a lefty and needled a pinpoint pass like a bowling ball — with some English — past two defenders for an easy basket by Bey. It was a big-time highlight, but Hayes downplayed it: “I saw an opening and put a little spin on it and Diq made the bucket.”

► No blown lead: The Pistons led a win get away from them on Wednesday against the Clippers in the final minutes, but this time, they closed it out on the Thunder. It was an important lesson in execution and making the right plays, which Casey has tried to place more emphasis on for the final stretch of the season. There will be more instances of the young group starting and finishing out games, and the initial takeaways are that they’re still learning and still getting a grasp of how to execute in late-game situations.

► The Jacksons: Josh Jackson was intent on scoring and was aggressive from the start of the game. Frank Jackson was as well, scoring nine points in less than two minutes in the third quarter. It’s a nice wing pairing for the Pistons, whether they play together or separately, with Frank Jackson becoming one of their go-to 3-point threats over the course of the season.

The challenge: One of the most critical plays of the game was Casey’s decision to challenge the foul called on Josh Jackson with 3:10 left to play in the game and the Pistons clinging to a 97-94 lead. Jackson was their leading scorer, and he would have fouled out if the call hadn’t been overturned by the replay review. Jackson instead  finished with 29 points and was aggressive all night in trying to get to the basket. Casey said he thought when he saw it live that it wasn’t an offensive foul, and the video confirmed it.

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